Normally this time of year you hear: Be sure and vote. Your vote counts. It is your civic duty to vote.
My admonition to you today is: Don’t cancel out an informed vote with an ill-informed one! If you haven’t studied thoroughly the issues and candidates, stay home. If you are only up to speed on a select number of items, by all means, vote on those, but leave the others blank.
Remember, the ballot is not like a pop quiz. You don’t get credit for wild guesses. All you do is dilute the votes of those of us who took the time to study the candidates and ballot initiatives.
The ballot franchise is not universal after all. Certain felons can’t vote, nor should they, because they may not have the best interest of the community at heart. They are crooks after all.
Until 2004, the Nevada Constitution also denied the right to vote to any “idiot or insane person.” That year the “idiot or insane” language was changed to the more politically correct “a person who has been adjudicated mentally incompetent, unless restored to legal capacity.”
I always thought we should have taken that opportunity to add: “or any self-imposed ignoramus, as determined by a poll test.”
Perhaps, you could still vote if you, as found in a survey a couple of years ago, are one of the 53 percent of Americans who does not know who the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is. But maybe not if you were among the 4 percent who guessed Harry Reid. And certainly not if you are a Nevadan and don’t know who Harry Reid is.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1820: “I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves. If we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”
On the other hand, David T.Z. Mindich, a journalism professor, former editor for CNN and author of “Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don’t Follow the News,” once commented: “It is not hyperbole to say that if a citizenry unilaterally abandons political knowledge, it relinquishes power as well. It has been said that America is a system ‘designed by geniuses so that it could be run by idiots.’ But this is not entirely true. The Constitution does provide checks against our greatest mistakes of the moment. And elections do provide a quick check against the government’s neglect of the people. But nothing in our Constitution protects us against the long-term ravages of neglect by the people themselves.”
Perhaps that explains how in the Republican congressional primary for District 4 a guy named Mike Monroe, an unknown Las Vegas handyman who did no campaigning whatsoever, picked up 22 percent of the votes, won outright in White Pine and Esmeralda counties and was within a handful of votes to the frontrunners in Lyon and Mineral counties.
New citizens have to take a civics test. Why should the mere fact that a native-born person has inexplicably managed to survive for 18 years qualify that person to have the power to alter the political makeup of our state and country? Before being allowed to vote in Nevada, why shouldn’t a person be required to, say, name the current governor and one of our two U.S. senators?
Bryan Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University and author of “The Myth of the Rational Voter,” observes: “In theory, democracy is a bulwark against socially harmful policies. In practice, however, democracies frequently adopt and maintain policies that are damaging. How can this paradox be explained?
“The influence of special interests and voter ignorance are two leading explanations. I offer an alternative story of how and why democracy fails. The central idea is that voters are worse than ignorant; they are, in a word, irrational — and they vote accordingly. Despite their lack of knowledge, voters are not humble agnostics; instead, they confidently embrace a long list of misconceptions.”
As Will Rogers said, “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”
If you know some self-imposed ignoramuses, please offer to drive them to the polls … on Nov. 5.
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/. Awarded first place by Nevada Press Association in 2014 for community columns and for editorials.